3G connectivity for PC Engines APU (MC8775)

PC Engines’ APU board has its mPCIe slot 2 wired to the SIM card socket, which allows using any standard mPCIe 3G modem. Most of modern modems are quite expensive, but there are plenty of Sierra Wireless MC8775 cards at aliexpress.com for around $20 apiece. This is a decent hardware, manufactured around 2007-2011. It doesn’t deliver the highest UMTS speeds possible, but still can be used in situations where speed is unimportant.

The cards that I bought came with firmware version 1_1_8_15, dated 2007/07/17. I didn’t test it fully, but there are some failure reports in the internet.

The firmware upgrade requires an adapter with a SIM card slot. I got mine from this eBay seller.

This page describes the firmware upgrade process. The links to istudioz.net are still valid, but you need to remove # (%23) from the URLs. The 3G watcher for the AirCard 875 is unavailable at its original place, but easy to find with Google. I got mine at this site. The upgrade requires a 32bit Windows machine, and takes about 20 minutes. I upgraded the firmware successfully with my old Vista laptop.

Also I bought the 3G antenna and the pigtail cable at aliexpress.

After inserting the 3G modem into mPCIe slot 2 and booting Debian Wheezy, the device was immediately visible as three serial USB interfaces (/dev/ttyUSB0  /dev/ttyUSB1  /dev/ttyUSB2). ttyUSB0 is used for data, and ttyUSB2 can be used for controlling the device with AT commands. The command “AT^CARDMODE” will tell if the SIM card is inserted, and “AT!GSTATUS?” displays the network status information. “AT+GMR” displays the current firmware version. Ctrl-a Ctrl-x sequence will finish the picocom session.

apt-get install -y wvdial picocom
picocom -b 115200 /dev/ttyUSB2 
AT^CARDMODE
AT!GSTATUS?
AT+GMR
Ctrl-a Ctrl-x

The following /etc/wvdial.conf works with Sunrise.ch 3G network:

[Dialer Defaults]
Modem = /dev/ttyUSB0
Baud = 460800
Init1 = ATZ
Init2 = ATQ0 V1 E1 S0=0 &C1 &D2 +FCLASS=0
Phone = *99#
Username = ''
Password = ''
Ask Password = 0
Stupid Mode = 1
Compuserve = 0
Idle Seconds = 0
ISDN = 0
Auto DNS = 1 

Execute “wvdial” comand from the command line, and it should immediately connect to the internet. The rest is easy: you can place wvdial into a startup script and execute it automatically at boot time.

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